It’s clear after just a few episodes of “Dancing With the Stars” that there’s a yawning divide between the real contenders and the novelty acts. Who fits where this season? Oh, that’s simple.
Bindi Irwin, Nick Carter and Tamar Braxton will likely stick around until the bitter end, as could the marrieds, Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. But definitely don’t count out American hero Alek Skarlatos, singer Andy Grammer and 15-year-old star of the Interwebs Hayes Grier, who have room to grow but have already trotted out their considerable charm and raw talent.
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The rest? Well, did it come as any surprise that Chaka Khan was the first to go? She didn’t so much dance as preen about on the stage, which has worked extremely well for her pop career because, killer pipes.
But when the scrutiny is on steps and technique and choreography, that Patti LaBelle route doesn’t fly.
Maybe it was only shocking that Kim Zolciak and her cellar-dweller first-week scores managed to stay, but there's another elimination planned for Tuesday night.
Fun/embarrassing factoid: Even with the measly 12 points she picked up in the first week, Zolciak wasn’t the lowest-ever scoring celebrity on the show. That “honor” belongs to Master P, who scored only eight points for his inaugural performance back in season 2. Man, that was a pitiful paso doble, said the judges.
It was a slightly different (crankier?) panel back then, but this season’s Julianne Hough, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli have already kind of poked holes in the score inflation that’s ruled for the past few years. They doled out a bunch of 4s in week 1, though they loosened up a little last night as some of the contestants legitimately deserved better numbers.
But we all know this is about entertainment and not ballroom dancing, right? Len Goodman, hurry back!
Bindi finished on top of the competitive heap, with Alexa, Carlos and Tamar right on her (sensible) heels. Victor, Paula and Gary were again bringing up the rear.
The first of a two-part episode dubbed “Hometown Glory,” "DWTS" wants to make us care about these B- through D-listers. What better way than a trip back to their birthplaces, interviews with their families, teachers and mentors? Tuesday night, it's the professionals' turn.
What did the celebrities share, and how did they do? Here are the results, in chronological order:
Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess
His teacher in Tampa, Fla., steered him in the right direction when he was growing up, Nick said, but his slippery glittered shoes most certainly did not on Monday night. The boy band veteran flailed around the stage during a quick-stepping jive to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in a performance that Julianne called “a little bit messy.” Bruno thought it was “double espresso” in its energy but still “a bit rough.” Carrie Ann is still surprised that Nick gets nervous. He’s a Backstreet Boy, after all, which no one, including Nick, will let us forget.
Paula Deen and Louis van Amstel
She was trying to redeem herself – she scored only a paltry 15 in week 1 – with a rumba to “Midnight Train to Georgia,” in tribute to Savannah, where she opened her first restaurant. She did improve, which isn’t saying too much, but she seemed to be enjoying herself. Bruno thought it was a lovely journey on the Paula Express, despite a few “unscheduled stops.” Carrie Ann thought she was “a whole different person,” who still needs to work on her turns. Julianne complimented her “leg action.”
Score: an improved 19
Hayes Grier and Emma Slater
The 15-year-old Vine star lit up social media during his “DWTS” debut, host Tom Bergeron said, and he gained some major points last night by comforting his tearful mom during the rehearsal video and then rushing to hug her as soon as he finished his foxtrot. Awwwwww. What a nice boy. He and Emma did some racing-themed dance, complete with his entrance on an electric motorcycle (?) that had something to do with Mooresville, N.C. What? Beats me. Carrie Ann thought he had a “wonderful interpretive quality” in his dancing, and Julianne said he needed to watch his consistency. Bruno said he has the arms of a ballet dancer, but needs work on his rise and fall.
Chaka Khan and Keo Motsepe
Chaka wanted to show “an upward gradient” in her foxtrot to Frank Sinatra’s “Chicago,” and she did a few more steps than last week, while still mostly voguing through the number. Julianne said she stretched her lines – she took the critique – and Bruno said it was a step forward. Carrie Ann warned her to memorize that choreography. “I want to see you when you don’t forget the choreography.”
Score: a slight bump up to 15
Andy Grammer and Allison Holker
It’s not cool to look stupid in front of everyone, Andy said during the pre-taped video, so he didn’t. But the upstate New York native didn’t dance in time with the music, either. It may not have helped that he chose the speedy pop tune “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel. Bruno said he “loved the attack,” and then he talked about fresh produce for no discernable reason. (Was that a bodega setting?) Carrie Anne couldn’t understand how a musician was so far off the beat, and Julianne said the technique and timing have to be there. The audience booed because it likes the sweet-faced Andy, who admitted to co-host Erin Andrews that “dancing is hard!” Truth!
Kim Zolciak Biermann and Tony Dovolani
On the one hand, Kim was absolutely right when she said during rehearsal there was nowhere to go but up (from that disastrous 12 points in the season premiere). On the other, she kept stopping the work, checking her phone and calling her kids. Tony was not amused. But their black-tie glam-themed quickstep proved that Kim’s “in the game,” Carrie Ann said. Bruno called it the most unexpected comeback since Lazarus. “She’s alive!”
Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold
Humble young hero Alek likes his hometown (Sacramento), Journey power ballads (“Don’t Stop Believin’”) and sound effects (his own). And despite making all kinds of weird noises during practice, as shown on the pre-taped video, he listens really well to his partner’s instructions. The result was a swell jazz number with some lovely strong-man lifts. The setting, a home-feeling porch with a prominent American flag, just boosted his Everyman image. Bruno said he combines power with grace. “Those lifts? Excuse me? Where do those come from?” Carrie Ann was intoxicated because she said he’s a joy to watch.
Score: a solid 23
Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas
Alexa and her husband, Carlos, promised during Week 1 that they’d gun hard for the Mirrorball trophy, even if it meant mowing down each other. But Carlos threw it all out on the dance floor that night, and Alexa’s head wasn’t quite in the game, Mark told her during their video segment. She vowed to take corrective action, in the form of a salsa dedicated to her Colombian family in Ocala, Fla. And, oh yeah, she was dressed like a leopard. And she salsa’d up a storm. Bruno called it “wild and wonderful,” and Carrie Ann said she “set the house on fire.” Julianne called her “sexy and strong” and dubbed the performance “a whole other level of commitment.” Bergeron felt sure that Carlos would want to take that costume home, too.
Score: an amped-up 24 (to the first week’s 22)
Victor Espinoza and Karina Smirnoff
Being a professional jockey must be something like being in the NFL, what with all the head trauma and concussions. As a result, his short-term memory isn’t great, Victor said during the season premiere, making it tough for him to retain choreography. But he’s relentlessly positive and happy, and I had a feeling his jive to “La Bamba,” honoring his native Mexico, would be a less cringe-worthy experience than his initial outing. Was it? Kinda. Carrie Ann would’ve given him a 10 for “cuteness and enthusiasm,” and Bruno called him a jumping bean. An oddly placed sombrero prop and a Viagra joke later, he was still smiling ear to ear.
Score: an audience-displeasing 17
Tamar Braxton and Val Chmerkovskiy
The cha cha is booty pumps and body rolls? Since when? Since reigning Mirrorball champ Val choreographed it. Tamar may not be a ballroom dancer, but make no mistake, she’s a dancer. The Maryland native is beautiful and graceful, and she’s a polished performer. Bruno called her performance to “We Are Family” “luminous and luscious,” and Carrie Ann declared her “a showstopper.”
Gary Busey and Anna Trebunskaya
Football was religion in Tulsa, Okla., and Gary played in high school. So Anna put Gary in a letterman’s jacket for their foxtrot to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” That was really the only sports connection, but Gary’s a crowd pleaser so it didn’t matter. He may dance “in a cosmos of riddles,” by his own admission, but he can mobilize the studio audience. Bruno said “that actually looked like a foxtrot,” and called Anna “a miracle worker.” Carrie Ann noted that he “didn’t miss a step,” though he came very close. Julianne compared his energy to a 12-year-old boy’s and thought it was “a beautiful, sweet dance.”
Score: 18, besting the first week’s 15
Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson
As a kid growing up in Columbia, Mo., Carlos listened to his dad singing country songs with his Spanish accent. He and his siblings thought it was hilarious then, but he thinks it’s endearing now. He and Witney did a flowing, smooth foxtrot to Blake Shelton’s sentimental country hit “Home.” Carrie Ann said he was “delicate, eloquent” and sophisticated, and Julianne felt the connection between the partners. Bruno found a “multi-shaded quality” in the performance.
Score: 24 (tied with his wife and Tamar)
Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough
Bindi was just a tyke, growing up in the middle of the Australia Zoo, and she was already a metal head. Well, maybe more of a classic rock aficionado like her beloved late father, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, she said during rehearsal. That’s why she wanted to grab a rocker chick outfit and tango to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Derek seemed happy to oblige because he’s as captivated with her as the rest of us. Devil horn hand gestures? Sure, Bindi! Whatever you want. Carrie Ann, devil horns aloft, said it “rocked my world!”
Score: 25 (top of the leader board)